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Tiny Satellites To Find Small & Giant Alien Worlds

Two researchers propose to use tiny satellites to locate alien worlds. Their results were presented at the American Astronomical Society meeting last month.


Cubesats. Photo credits: NASA.

Smaller in size is not necessarily smaller in effectiveness. In so many cases, for instance research pertaining to nanotechnology, it has been proved that smaller is actually better. Along the same line of reasoning, scientists have recently proposed to use tiny satellites – so small they could fit in the palm of one’s hand – to spot alien worlds.

The aim of undergraduate student Ameer Blake, and astrophysicist Aki Roberge is to have cheaper (and, thus miniaturised) satellites glean data in less time at a lesser cost. They have analysed the potential of sending a smaller equipment called a cubesat to look for a new planet orbiting the star Beta Pictoris.

Star Beta Pictoris has already been said to be hosting planet Beta Pictoris b. Blake’s objective has been to find out whether there are other planets in its vicinity. The problem is that the method used to identify the super-big Beta Pictoris b might not be adequate to spot smaller worlds, or those that are nearer to their sun.

This is why Blake and Roberge intend to launch a cubesat into space to look for another world circling the star using the technique called transit method. This technique looks for dips in the brightness of a star as a planet shifts between its sun and our planet.

Blake is positive that this method would allow for both small planets and large ones (even those larger than our own Jupiter) to be identified.

The idea is to send only one instrument targeted at only one star to avoid having to redirect many instruments to look for different stars. Blake also says that if this method is confirmed to be effective, other satellites might be launched to look for other worlds out there.


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